At this time of year, there is often lots of positivity and optimism in the air – people have enjoyed some much-needed R&R over the festive period and are now looking forward to the New Year and all the opportunity it may bring.
It’s a time for reflection – we think about what we have done so far, where we are now, and what we want to do in future. We think about what we want to change.
Do you want to travel more? Do you want to read more? Do you want to take your fitness more seriously?
Surveys show that financial resolutions consistently appear near the top of people’s lists heading into the New Year.
And most of the time, we think about these things for a few days – then we get back to the office, back to school drop offs, and back to the routine of life, and we forget all about them until the 1st of January next year!
At Abacus, we want to help you start the year on the right foot, so here’s our top 10 financial tips as we enter the New Year – they are designed to be quick and easy so you can stick to them, but they’ll greatly help to set your financial wellbeing up for success in 2023.
1. Give Yourself a Pat on the Back!
Start on a positive – what good things did you do with money last year?
Perhaps you’re a young couple and you finally started saving for a house deposit?
Maybe you overpaid your mortgage, or cleared away a credit card debt?
Maybe you saved more than you planned to?
Maybe you reduced your expenditure? Whether it’s an electric car that cut your running costs, a new supermarket that’s a little cheaper, or simply getting a better deal on your gym membership.
2022 was a stressful year for many people’s finances, with inflation soaring (making things more expensive), interest rates rising (making borrowing money more expensive) and of course stock market returns tumbling.
These things create scary short-term headlines, but are outside the sphere of our control – by focusing on the things we can control, we can make good financial decisions and navigate our way through short term noise and stay on the path to long-term financial success.
By looking back at the year past and giving yourself a pat on the back for the things you did well with your money last year, you course-correct yourself mentally away from these negative points that have dominated the media over the year. And, put yourself in a positive head space to get through the next 9 tips!
2. What Lessons can be Learned?
You’ve congratulated yourself on all the things you did well with money last year – well done!
Now, what bad things did you do with money last year?
Don’t worry, we’ve all been there – we’ve all fantasised over that one thing for weeks or months.
We’ve all thought to ourselves “if only I had that, life would be great!”.
It might be new shoes, a new car, or a pool for the back garden – very often, the idea is far greater than the reality.
We’ve all had these experiences and we all feel the same hollowness once the novelty of the next new thing has worn off. We’ve all thought “I’d rather have the money now”.
This is human nature and there’s nothing wrong with it – however, it is important to learn from these experiences and to avoid these mistakes in future.
Make a mental note of 2022’s “dream purchase” and tell your partner or your friend about it (or even better, your Financial Planner if you have one). They’ll be able to hold you accountable and remind you of the “buyer’s remorse” you felt when you’re eventually building up to 2023’s “dream purchase”.
This is also a good opportunity to review the investment choices you made – we have seen some very choppy markets over the last year, and this could be a first for plenty of investors. This is a great time to review your investment decisions to make sure you have a proper evidence-based investment strategy in place, that you haven’t been investing in “flavour of the month” or speculative investments without any clear strategy, and to make sure that your investments are aligned with your attitude to risk after the litmus test of 2022.
Finally, look at your savings rate – how much did you plan on saving last year? How much did you actually save last year?
3. Take Stock.
If you work with a Financial Planner, then they will do this for you in depth and cover all the angles.
But if you don’t, you can handle the basics by yourself.
Take out a piece of paper, the notes app on your phone, or an excel sheet – whatever works for you.
And now write down these 4 things:
- Everything you own;
- Everything you owe;
- Everything you earn;
- Everything you spend.
At Abacus, we go through a version of this with every new client that comes onboard, and seeing these numbers written and listed out is always impactful.
Congratulations, that’s it!
Save your new personal balance sheet and set a reminder on your phone (or if your house is anything like mine, just announce in your kitchen “Alexa, remind me to take stock of my finances again in 1 year!”).
You can repeat this again next year, but this time you’ll be able to see and track your progress. Over time, you’ll get into the rhythm of this exercise, and you’ll be able to run your own health check on your finances.
This will be incredibly powerful for your financial future, as you’re no longer walking into it blindly – instead, you’re in control of it and giving it important context, making sure you can measure it, spot issues, and adjust before they grow into bigger ones.
4. Control the Controllables.
How many times have you had a nasty “financial surprise”? How much anxiety did it cause?
Now I want you to go back to your piece of paper/notes app/excel.
Write down 12 headings, one for each month of the year.
Think about the year ahead and, under each month, write down each of the “financial surprises” you might expect each month.
There will be some obvious ones and some less obvious ones, but try to put down at least 1 or 2 for each month.
For example, if your car insurance falls in March, write it down under March. In Dubai, lots of people pay their rent annually – if that falls in September, write it down under September. If you’re planning a big holiday in July, write it down under July, and so on.
Well done you – you’ve instantly eliminated 80% of the “financial surprises” you were going to get in 2023!
You’ve eliminated these surprises because they weren’t really surprises at all – most people (even high-flying executives who are leaders in their own fields) simply sleepwalk through their financial lives and then feel better calling them “surprises” when they happen, because then they don’t have to take the blame for being disorganised or being “financially unconscious”.
Now that you’ve identified most of the “financial surprises” you can expect this year, you can plan and budget for them so that they don’t derail your monthly cash flow.
For example, if you had “buying a new motorbike for your birthday” under August, and it’s going to cost $10,000, then you need to save $1,430 per month until then.
If you can’t save that, then you can’t afford the bike.
The alternative is the beginning of what we call a “financial death spiral” – you’ll borrow money to pay for it, or stick it on the credit card for future-you to worry about.
Bad debt is difficult to shift and easy to see spiral out of control.
To help with this, you can also go back to your personal balance sheet and look at what you have under the “Everything I spend” column.
Look through this and, now that you’re consciously thinking about it, see if there is anything that you can strip out to reduce your monthly spending. You’ll often find at least a few quick wins, before a little more thought is needed to weigh up priorities against other items.
Do you really need 5 different streaming service subscriptions?
Do you buy your lunch every single day?
Do you get taxis everywhere?
Personally, I received a new camera as a Christmas gift in 2019 and signed up to the full suite of Adobe editing software in my excitement. This year, I cancelled the monthly subscription I’ve been paying for the last 3 years, as I probably stopped using it somewhere in mid-2021.
Then perhaps it’s on to the bigger things, like can you reduce the cost of your mortgage, or other loans? Can you reduce your rent or utility bills? I know the A/C bill is a big one for fellow UAE residents.
And finally, the items that just need a sense check vs. your priorities – perhaps there are things you spend money on that you know you probably shouldn’t, but it’s just a case of how affordable it is, and does it add value to your life?
Maybe you don’t need it, but you’ve thought about it and cinema is one of your most enjoyable ways to switch off and relax – so paying extra for the ultra HD version of Netflix with all the bells and whistles is adding value for you personally.
There might be other things that don’t add value to your life and by consciously thinking about them, you’ll be able to identify and eliminate them.
Reducing your monthly spending will free up money that you can then save to cover “financial surprises”. And once they’re covered, you’re saving for your own financial future, which is even better!
6. Start an Emergency Fund.
If you don’t already have an emergency fund, now is the time to start building one.
As alluded to above, once you’re saving enough to cover your financial surprises for the year, you’re at a net zero position.
Now it’s time to push on into positive territory.
The first and most important step you can take here is to build your emergency fund.
An emergency fund is a pot of money that is ringfenced away from the rest of your money.
Ideally held in a separate savings account – savings accounts can usually be set up in a click or two through your online banking, to run alongside your standard current account.
Aim to have a minimum of 3 months’ worth of expenditure held here.
You can then dip into this and replenish as you like.
When emergencies strike, you can cover them without impacting your monthly cash flow. Imagine if you lost your job tomorrow? Could you still pay your bills, pay your children’s school fees, put food on the table?
Having an emergency fund gives you time, so there are no financial worries, and you can breathe and re-organise.
Crucially, it also ensures you avoid bad debt – like high interest loans and credit cards – to cover these emergencies (and the dreaded death spiral!).
Remember – if you need to access your emergency fund, it means you’re going through a stressful time. Imagine how much more stressful it would be without an emergency fund!
You don’t have to do this all at once but try to start allocating a little of your salary each month into a savings account, even if it’s just $500 or $1,000 to get you started.
Keep doing this until you’ve reached 3 months’ worth of your monthly expenditure.
If you have successfully built your emergency fund, you are displaying good savings habits.
Don’t stop now!
However, you already have your emergency fund, so any possible need you might have for quick cash has already been taken care of.
Anything you save above this should not be kept sitting around in cash, as inflation will erode it over time – you’ll lose 2%-3% every single year on money you have sitting in cash.
So, if you do have savings sitting in cash, make sure it’s sitting there for a good reason.
Once you’re saving above your emergency fund, think about the 5-year rule – are you going to need the money within the next 5 years?
If the answer is yes, then keep your savings in cash (perhaps even set up another ring-fenced savings account, and give it the name of your short-term goal – e.g. “House Deposit 2024”).
But if the answer is no, then you should invest this to make sure your money is growing above inflation.
Think about it this way – in the year 2000 a loaf of bread cost 52p in the UK. You could almost get 2 loaves with £1.
Today, a loaf of bread costs £1.07. I hate to tell you, but if you’ve kept your savings sitting in cash all this time, you can’t even afford 1 loaf of bread anymore with your same £1.
Meanwhile, £1 invested correctly in a globally diversified portfolio over the same period would be worth £3.95 today.
Congratulations to those people for their good financial habits, they can now afford 3 loaves of bread and still have change left over for a Mars bar too.
Here’s another point to consider – once you’re saving, it does not benefit the economy for it to be tucked away in a current account doing nothing. Therefore, our entire financial system is designed to get this back into the economy for productive use – like investing it into global companies, who then use that money productively to fund new technology, produce goods and services, create jobs, etc.
To put this another way, once you are saving, your savings are getting invested whether you like it or not – the question is simply whether you want to benefit from the growth on your savings, or whether you’re happy for someone else to instead (i.e. your bank).
Let me elaborate – in practice, banks are required by law to have their own emergency funds, which are called “reserve requirements”. In the UK banks are required to keep 12% “in reserve”, while UAE banks are required to keep 7%.
In simple terms, a bank’s emergency fund needs to have enough to make sure people can withdraw money from their accounts whenever they like.
In reality, we don’t all go to the bank and withdraw all our money at the same time, so the bank makes sure they have enough to cover the daily withdrawals they need to facilitate (plus a healthy buffer for emergencies).
Then they invest the rest and use it more productively to generate a higher return. First and foremost, they lend to other consumers or businesses and make a profit on these loans. Most banks will also invest a portion of their money directly into assets, such as stocks, bonds, or real estate.
So effectively, only £12 out of every £100 you have in your UK bank account is actually there (or 7 AED out of every 100 AED in your UAE bank account) – the rest is being invested by the bank to achieve a higher return.
If you’re nervous about investing, please do feel free to get in touch – our highly qualified team of Financial Planners would be more than happy to chat through and explain things clearly for you.
8. Protect Yourself and Your Family.
Nobody ever wants to talk about insurance, because it simply does not align with the human psyche – it’s the only thing you pay for, but never want to use.
However, it is important to consider your protection needs – has anything changed since last year?
Perhaps nobody relied upon you financially, so the impact of your death was limited (financially speaking of course!).
But perhaps you got married in 2022 and now there is someone else to think about?
Perhaps you had a child in 2022, and now the picture looks very different?
Perhaps you recently got a big promotion, and your income has dramatically increased – the retirement picture for you and your partner now looks rosy, but will your partner maintain that course if something happens to you and the household loses that income?
Perhaps you’re starting to earn well now, and you’re becoming more aware of what might happen if you get sick and have to take an extended period off work for treatment? Not only does your income cease and your financial goals put on pause, but who pays for medical treatment?
Think back on any changes to your circumstances and establish whether your protection picture has changed – life cover and critical illness cover can provide huge peace of mind and make sure you and your family stay on track financially, even if disaster strikes.
It’s also worth picturing what life would look like if life cover or critical illness must be paid out – it means your family will be going through an upsetting and stressful time. Therefore, having the correct protection in place means that at least they will be taken care of financially and they do not have financial stress added on top of everything else during such a distressing time.
So even if it’s not needed, it’s certainly worth taking a minute to think about your protection needs and having peace of mind heading into 2023.
Use technology to your advantage and automate your finances as much as possible.
Give yourself time back for the more enjoyable things in life.
If you’re saving £1,000 per month for a house deposit, set this up through your online banking, so that the money moves from your current account to your savings account automatically each month.
Set it up for the day after payday.
Do it once and you won’t have to think about it again.
If you’re saving £2,000 per month into your investment account, do the same thing – set up a monthly standing order to automatically send this the day after pay day.
Then you can spend the rest of your money guilt free on whatever you like over the rest of the month – if there’s any extra leftover, great! If not, you already took care of the essentials, so no need to feel guilty about it.
I promise you you’ll sleep better. And when you check your finances again next year, you’ll be delighted to see that you didn’t miss a single month and you’re right on track for where you want to be.
10. Find a good Financial Planner you’ll enjoy working with for life.
Not everyone needs to pay for professional advice, but if you want help with any of the above, you’re at a point where your financial life is becoming more complicated, or your net worth is becoming stressful to manage by yourself, then it’s worth finding a Financial Planner to work with.
A good Financial Planner will help you to put in place a formal financial plan for your life, help you to make optimal financial decisions, help to navigate you through life’s biggest financial challenges, keep you on track, and make sure you reach your goals.
Finding a good fit Financial Planner can be particularly challenging in the international market, and you can read our article on the subject (along with the best 10 questions to ask when trying to find a good one) here.
Of course, we would also be delighted to speak with you if you would like to explore working with Abacus.
Feel free to contact us for a no obligation coffee and a chat, we’ll discuss through your life and your finances, how we operate as a firm, and explore whether or not we would be a good fit.
After a challenging 2022 for many people, now is the perfect time to get on top of your finances.
The good news is that there are lots of things you can do to start 2023 off on the right foot and ensure it’s a financial success.
Hopefully our top 10 financial tips help you to do just that, and if you would like to ask any questions please do get in touch. Our team would be more than happy to help.
Happy New Year!
By Cornelius J. Lillis – CEO
Please keep in mind that, whilst we aim to update these articles periodically, the content could be subject to future rule changes. Always make sure to speak to a qualified professional to ensure you have the most up to date information and are taking regulated advice around your specific circumstances.